Friday, April 13, 2012
Sly Fox Rt. 113 IPA – Sly Fox Brewing Company – Phoenixville PA
Once again, in my never-ending quest to sample “every” craft beer out there, I’ve come across one that I knew very little about. I had never heard of the Sly Fox Brewing Company, but was lured in by the fact that they’re canning their beer. This is a hot button topic these days…whether canning is an acceptable method of packaging the product or not…and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to test it out. Typically, I’m not impressed with cans, but in Sly Fox, I truly have a sample that I won’t be tainted by previous experience with. It does come highly recommended though…but only from a friend who grew up near where the Brewery is located, so we’ll see what that means. Here’s what the website has to say:
A big, flavorful IPA for all the hopheads out there, brewed with British Pale and Crystal malts, and hopped with Centennial, Cascade, German Northern Brewer, & UK East Kent Goldings. Bold and spicy.
16.4 OG | 113 IBUs | 7% ABV
When Sly Fox Brewing Company moved the Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery from its original location in Pikeland Village Square in Phoenixville across Rt. 113 and into a brand new facility in Maple Lawn Shopping Center, it marked the latest in a series of advancement made by the company since its founding nearly 15 years earlier, in December 1995.
Upgrading the original pub, which became a fixture in the town’s social life almost immediately and formed the basis for Phoenixville now boasting one of the strongest craft beer cultures in the Philadelphia suburbs, followed the opening of a production brewery in nearby Royersford in November 2004 and the addition of a canning line to the brewery in 2006, making Sly Fox the first brewery in the Mid-Atlantic region to make canned beers their primary package. That move made the company one of the forerunners of the canning revolution which has been sweeping the industry ever since; the awarding of a Gold Medal to Sly Fox Pikeland Pilsner at the 2007 Great American Beer Festival in Denver marked the first time a GABF medal of any sort had been given to a craft beer.
Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery will continue to be home to such popular events such as the Bock Fest & Goat Race on the first Sunday of May which draws crowds of 2,000 or more to town every year (the annual Sly Fox Maibock is named that day in honor of the goat which wins the multi-heat race), and the Robbie Burns Birthday Bash celebrating Scotland’s greatest poet in January. The second Friday in December, which was the date for the culmination of a varietal brewing program each year from 2005-2009 (one single hop beer released monthly) became a new local holiday for beer aficionados will be reinvented as a celebration of the pub’s birthday each year and will still feature the release of Sly Fox Odyssey, an imperial IPA. Phoenixville conducts a ten-week St. Patrick’s Day Boot Camp every January – February, which ends on St. Patrick’s Day and the drawing of lottery tickets in which one lucky participant wins a trip for two to Ireland.
The success of Sly Fox Brewing Company has been due to the unfailing support of the founding Giannopoulos family. Its growth into a full production company which is considered one of the top breweries in what is arguably the nation’s best beer market is the result of that support and the brewing skills and promotional genius of brewmaster Brian O’Reilly, who arrived the spring of 2002 In addition to that 2007Gold Medal, Pikeland Pils has another Gold and Bronze GABF Medal to its name and is considered one of the nation’s top pilsners. Sly Fox Rauchbier won GABF Gold in 2008; Helles Lager took Bronze in 2002. Pikeland Pils and Sly Fox Oktoberfest were named National Grand Champion in their categories during the 15th annual United States Beer Tasting Championships in 2010. Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery was voted Third Best Brewpub in the country at beeradvocate.com in July 2003 and Sly Fox was named Philadelphia’s Best Brewery by Philadelphia Magazine in July 2004.
In the Beginning
The Sly Fox story began in 1994 when Pete Giannopoulos, who left his job in corporate sales earlier that year to pursue his dream of opening a brewpub, found a site in Phoenixville that seemed perfect, an old inn with a barn in the rear which he envisioned as the brewery. But when he talked to the New Jersey investors who’d been encouraging his search, he discovered that talking was the extent of their game.
A bitter disappointment, of course, but one which turned out to be a good thing. What had been merely a prospective business now became prospective family business and that, as they say, made all the difference. As Sly Fox Brewery has grown over the years into a thriving and expanding enterprise, the one constant has been the unswerving commitment of the Giannopoulos family to its success. Things all fell into place with a single suggestion from family patriarch Dr. Peter H. Giannopoulos: “Why not let us be your partners?”
In the end, the proposed original site couldn’t be worked out, but with the whole family on the case, that proved to be just a minor bump in the road. A couple of months went by which had Pete reluctantly contemplating a return to the corporate world, but then came a phone call from his mother. She’d been walking around Pikeland Village Square on Rt. 113 just a touch to the southwest of Phoenixville proper when she noticed a large building in the rear with a “vacant” sign on the door. “I think I’ve found the place,” she told her son. And indeed she had.
An Ambitious Family Affair…
Pete designed the pub and he and his younger brother John set out to become professional brewers, hiring San Diego consultant Mary Lou Moore to help them design basic recipes from which they formulated their own beers. The whole family pitched in, with Mrs. Giannopoulos helping with decorating and various aunts and uncles helping out. Older brother Harry was put in charge of the books and financial records and younger siblings Wendy and Glenn signed on to work at the pub.
The name “Sly Fox” was arrived at during a family meeting (there were lots of those) to reflect the brewpub’s home in Chester County and the area’s fox-hunting tradition. An original logo designed by Pete, an artist by avocation, was modified into the familiar smiling fox lifting a pint which adorned the Phoenixville location for its first nine years. A sign featuring that logo and Pete’s original drawing both still hang in the pub.
Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery opened its doors on December 20, 1995 and there’s been no looking back.
Crafting a Local & Regional Favorite…
Wisely recognizing that while being a brewpub was what would make them unique among most of their competitors, it was the restaurant side of their business which would be a determining factor in their success, the Giannopoulos family made Sly Fox an affordable, appealing dining option for the entire community. The effect has been to create an eclectic clientele—businessmen and women dressed for success, a family with young children out for dinner, young people out for an evening on the town. Sly Fox has been cited several times over the years as a favorite Chester County dining spot.
The open design of the main bar area and a popular outdoor drinking and dining terrace in warmer weather give the pub a welcoming and inviting ambiance that is enhanced by a friendly serving staff and knowledgeable bartenders familiar with the beers they pour. The sense of camaraderie, which pervades the pub, is made tangible by Sly Fox’s involvement in its community, most notably an annual golf tournament, which has raised funds for local charities since the first year, the doors opened.
Good food and good people have been vital to its success, but brewpubs are ultimately defined by the quality of their beers, of course, and Sly Fox quickly established itself as a beer-lover’s pub. Sly Fox Amber IPA was voted Philadelphia Favorite Beer at a judging in the spring of 1996, only a few months after the doors opened, and other awards followed, including a Gold medal as “Best Bitter” for Sly Fox ESB at the annual State College Microbrewers & Importers Exposition in 1998.
The first brewer was John Giannopoulos, who was succeeded in the brewhouse by Brady Van Duff, his former assistant. Van Duff was followed by in turn by Bob Waterman before award-winning brewer Bill Moore (Stoudt’s, Independence) came on board in 2000-2001 and manned the kettles until current head brewer Brian O’Reilly arrived in March 2002. O’Reilly kicked things up another notch with his talent for promotion as well as making beer. His enthusiastic efforts quickly increased off-premise sales and made Sly Fox a familiar tap handle at some of the area’s top beer bars.
This steady record of success, plus a growing demand for Sly Fox beers which taxed the capacity of the Phoenixville brewhouse, fueled the search for a second location, which the owners began in the summer of 2002. Roughly a year later, after a deal for one spot fell through, the search turned up an ideal location, at 312 N. Lewis Road in Royersford.
That 12,500 square foot site, which opened in November 2004, houses--in addition to a 7,000 square foot restaurant--a 20-barrel brewhouse with both a bottling line (for 22oz and 750ml sizes) and the first canning line in the Mid-Atlantic region, which was added in 2006. With this expanded capacity, operating partner John Giannopoulos, O’Reilly, brewery operations manager Tim Ohst and their brewing staff are able to meet the demand for Sly Fox beers, a market which has expanded into Pittsburgh and Harrisburg as well as the immediate Philadelphia region in Pennsylvania and both the New Jersey and New York markets at the end of 2006.
With a full-scale brewery, two pubs, a loyal local customer base and both beer and food which attract visitors from all along the Eastern seaboard, Sly Fox looks to the future with the same confidence and vigor which marked its earliest days. The family business has expanded that family to include customers, friends, employees and suppliers and made itself a vital part of the growing western Philadelphia suburbs.
Awards for Sly Fox Brewery include:
- Sly Fox Amber IPA was voted Philadelphia Favorite Beer at a judging in the 1996
- Sly Fox ESB won Gold medal as Best Bitter at the annual State College Microbrewers & Importers Exposition in 1998
- French Creek Helles won Bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2002
- Pikeland Pils won Bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2003
- Voted Third Best Brewpub in the country at BeerAdvocate.com in July 2003
- Named Philadelphia’s Best Brewery by Philadelphia magazine in July 2004
- Pikeland Pils earned a top ranking in the April-May 2005 issue of Celebrator Beer News
- Rt. 113 IPA was named best India Pale Ale in the Mid-Atlantic/Southeast region at the 12th Annual Summer United States Beer Tasting Competition in 2006
- Pikeland Pils won Gold medal in the German-Style Pilsener category at the Great American Beer Festival in 2007
- Instigator Doppelbock won Bronze medal in the Strong Bock category at the Great American Beer Festival in 2007
- Saison Vos was named the best Saison in the Mid-Atlantic/Southeast region at the 13th Annual Summer United States Beer Tasting Competition in 2007
Started in 2004 as a year-long celebration of brewery's ninth year in business, Sly Fox created a series of eight varietal IPAs, each brewed with a single hop. All eight of the hops were used to brew Odyssey, Sly Fox's first Imperial IPA. The event culminated in an all-day festival at the Phoenixville location in December where the brewery's flagship Rt. 113 IPA, all eight varietal IPAs, and Odyssey were all available on tap.
In 2005, the IPA Project was repeated with nine varietal IPAs with nine new hops plus a reformulated Odyssey. The IPA Project celebration poured 12 different IPAs: Rt. 113 IPA, the nine varietals, and both the 2004 and 2005 Odyssey. The day-long event also marked the release of Rt. 113 IPA in 22oz bottles.
IPA Project 2006 repeated the best three single hop IPAs each from 2004 and 2005 and introduced four new ones, for a total of ten varietals. This year's day-long celebration in December was topped off with the first release of Odyssey Imperial IPA in 22oz bottles.
The 2007 version was hindered by a massive warehouse fire that occurred in October in Yakima, Washington, which destroyed roughly two million pounds of U.S. grown hops and has left several varieties in short supply or completely sold out for the year, but Brewery Operations Manager Tim Ohst announced that they planned on brewing eleven total varietals but in smaller batches. The IPA Project Day was held on December 14, 2007.
Fact…I had never heard of The Sly Fox Brewery before today. Fact…Craft beer in a can scared me before I tried it, and it still does. FACT…this beer just isn’t very good. Okay…maybe that’s a bit harsh, but I will say this, there are better options out there. The pour was fine…actually, surprisingly smooth considering the fact that it’s from a can. The head was tight, but seemed to fade pretty quickly. As for the taste, we’re talking a heavy dose of Hops, with a boatload of complexity. My biggest complaint here is the skunky aftertaste that seemed to linger long after the glass is drained. A positive however would be the price. At $10 a six-pack, this is by far the most affordable Craft brew out there, but I guess you get what you pay for, because truth be told…you can do far better.
6/10 – Affordable but you can do better